CONTRA is breaking the mold of streetwear, one minimalist hoodie and embroidered T-shirt at a time. Crafted from Ross Youell and Gabriele Galli's detail-oriented approach to fashion, the New York City-based brand recently celebrated its first year in business.
Today, CONTRA produces garments that defy trends, hinging on materials and structure to carve a long-lasting niche in the market. Whether it's a paneled hoodie or logo-printed sweats, Youell and Galli's pieces are redefining what streetwear means and who it's for (the brand eschews seasons and is positioned as genderless).
Non-traditionalist ideas are the foundation of CONTRA, from Youell and Galli creating all of their online content in-house to packing their first products in Galli's apartment. In their eyes, self-expression is essential — and fashion is for everyone.
Photography: Michelle Mercede
Upon meeting at their corporate jobs, the pair quickly bonded over a love for fashion — as well as their beliefs that fit, quality and silhouettes are more powerful than trends. Youell's creative spirit complemented Galli's analytical mindset — and after meeting for coffee at Ludlow House, CONTRA was born.
"We both think in detail-oriented ways when it comes to the garments one wears," Youell tells PAPER. "More than the details of a garment, we have a very motive and intention-focused approach towards fashion. The 'why' and the 'how' matter just as much as the 'what' to any garment."
The designers' inspirations run from Dapper Dan's early works to New York's early hip-hop scene (Youell specifically cites Nas's Illmatic and Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt). Most importantly, they want to stand out from the norm.
"We always want to be at the intersection of going against the grain and acknowledging the current cultural climate," Youell says. "I'd also say that our inspiration continues to stem from the streets of New York City. There's an energy and rhythm to New York that does not exist anywhere else in the world. We are raw and edgy, but simultaneously polished and complex — just like NYC."
Photography: Logan Hicks
For CONTRA's first drop in 2019, the duo aimed to perfect the humble hoodie. Galli recalls days where he and Youell picked up rolls of their Japanese fabric to be Ubered to the garment district, and visited factories before and after work to ensure a perfect hoodie silhouette. He even made his East Village apartment double as a production studio where he and his mother, as well as Youell and his girlfriend, packaged the brand's debut pieces. Those first hoodies sold out in one week.
"When we sold out within a week, it was definitely an 'oh shit!' moment," says Galli. "You reflect on the months of work, and to be so validated in an initial drop is something Ross and I will never forget. That proof of concept gave us the confidence to keep challenging ourselves."
Some of the brand's most popular styles, made in collaboration with Soho's SNKRFLEA, are T-shirts and hoodies paneled with materials from Dior and Louis Vuitton handbags.
Photography: Logan Hicks
"Those initial designs are also an homage to our forefathers as well as an implicit critique of the streetwear market," says Youell, citing the aforementioned Dapper Dan as their inspiration. "More than that, these designs are a subtle jab to streetwear consumerism. We strive to initiate conversations — controversy even. We want to pull into question what the consumers' true priorities are and have them make their own conclusions."
Whether it's a T-shirt with an LV leather panel or logo-printed sweats, Youell and Galli's pieces are redefining what streetwear means and who it's for. No matter how large CONTRA becomes, the duo will always derive passion from their creative process.
"Everything we do is hands-on," says Galli. "Whether it's deconstructing bags with nothing but an X-Acto knife or styling photoshoots ourselves, everything we do at CONTRA is so gratifying because this is our vision."
Top photo: Theo Choi